You can revitalize almost any plastic and vinyl surface in your car with paint. You can even paint the cloth seats! However, it is vital that you prepare the materials properly. Also, it is always preferable that you remove them before painting. You should also choose the right primer and paint for your specific needs and use careful spraying techniques. When you're done though, the car's faded interior will look like new!
Part 1 of 4: Remove or Cover Pieces with Masking Tape
Step 1. Read the user manual before removing the interior panels
Some pieces will come off with very little effort. For example, trim panels are often held in place with small tabs. Therefore, you can remove them by squeezing, pulling, and moving them from one side to the other. However, to reduce the chance of breaking something, read the owner's manual carefully and look for instructions on removing the interior panels.
Although removing the pieces for painting can take a long time. It's safer to paint them this way to make them look better in the end
Step 2. Remove the door panels according to your user manual
You will often have to remove the plastic sections near the window, door handle, or speakers to expose the screws that hold the panel in place. Once you remove all the mounting screws with a screwdriver, you can remove the panel and disconnect any wires from the speaker, windows, etc.
- Each group of wires will be connected to the door with a plastic hook that will pop open when you squeeze and pull it.
- Removing a door panel generally requires a step-by-step strategy. Therefore, carefully follow the instructions for the specific type of vehicle you have.
Step 3. Be very careful if you are removing the parts from the steering wheel
If you start pulling on the steering wheel panels without knowing what you're doing, you could easily injure yourself from the sudden deployment of an airbag. Read the owner's manual carefully before removing any part of the steering wheel for painting.
- Generally, you should disconnect the car battery and wait at least 30 minutes before removing any panels from the steering wheel. Next, you will probably need to disconnect the airbag (possibly from the bottom of the steering column) and remove the airbag tube, with the entire cover, from the steering wheel.
- If you're unsure about doing this, let a professional handle this part of the job. Replacing a broken airbag system can cost you up to $ 1,000.
Step 4. Remove the seats if you are going to paint them
In many cases, car seats remain in place with 4 bolts in total, one at each end of the 2 rails that the seats slide on. Remove them with a socket wrench, tilt the seat back, squeeze and pull any plastic hooks holding the cables (for the seat adjusters, etc.) in place. Then remove the seat.
Painting cloth seats while they are still in the car usually causes a disaster and can expose you to higher concentrations of chemical fumes. Before painting, take the time to read the manual and remove the seats properly before painting
Step 5. Cover any part of the seat that you don't want to paint
Once you've removed the seats, remove and cover any plastic, metal, or other items that you want to paint. Mask those areas using a combination of masking tape and plastic bags to cover those areas.
Step 6. Use masking tape or cover the sections if you want to paint the pieces in place
If you decide to paint the interior parts without removing them, be very careful when covering the surfaces that you do not want to paint (for example: clocks, stereo, windshield and mirror, etc.). Apply masking tape to create neat border lines between painted and unpainted areas, and glue plastic sheeting (or shopping bags) cut to fit larger areas you don't want to paint.
Whenever possible, spray paint on parts outside of the car so you don't expose yourself to concentrated fumes. Regardless of whether you spray the interior or exterior of the car, work in a well-ventilated area and wear a mask
Part 2 of 4: Preparing Surfaces for Painting
Step 1. Clean the plastic and vinyl parts with soap, water, and a cleaning pad
Add a squirt of dish soap to a bucket of warm water. Dip an ultra-fine-grained cleaning pad (for example, a gray Scotch Brite brand scouring pad) in the water and wash the parts thoroughly.
- Don't use steel wool, sandpaper, or heavier grit cleaning pads, as they will scratch the plastic or vinyl too much.
- You simply need to lightly scrub the surface to make the paint adhere, remove dirt and grime.
Step 2. Use compressed air to dry the plastic or vinyl parts
If you have compressed air in your shop or an aerosol can of compressed air in your hand, use either of those items to air dry the parts you have washed. The compressed air will quickly dry the parts and remove any dust from the cleaning pad.
If you don't have compressed air, let the parts air dry or clean them with a lint-free cloth. Then, run a sticky cloth over them to remove any dust
Step 3. Wipe a trisodium phosphate (TSP) cloth over the vinyl or plastic parts
Trisodium phosphate comes as a powder, and you should mix it with water according to the directions on the package. It's also a very powerful cleaner, so wear long clothing, eye protection, a respirator mask, and rubber gloves, and work in a well-ventilated area. Just mix the amount you need and clean the pieces with a cloth dampened with trisodium phosphate. Then let the pieces dry.
- If you have vinyl parts and prefer not to work with trisodium phosphate, you can find preparative vinyl spray cleaners at auto stores. Just spray a thin coat and let it set for about 30 seconds. Then remove it with a lint-free cloth.
- For an alternative to trisodium phosphate for plastic parts, use denatured alcohol. Dampen a clean cloth with rubbing alcohol, wipe the parts well, and let them air dry.
- Regardless of the product you use, follow all the safety measures on the list and work in a ventilated area.
Step 4. Vacuum fabric seats before priming and painting
Use a vacuum with powerful suction and remove every possible dirt and debris from the fabric. For heavily soiled seats, you may need to use a steam cleaner. Then let them dry and continue vacuuming.
If the fabric has a suede finish with a grain, wipe it in its natural direction after vacuuming and before painting
Part 3 of 4: Apply primer to parts
Step 1. Choose a filler primer for scratched plastic parts
Filler primers are formulated to smooth small scratches and cracks in plastic parts. Depending on the product instructions, you may need to apply several coats of primer to achieve the desired effect.
- You can find filler primers with other primers and spray paints. Look for one that is formulated specifically for automobiles if possible.
- No filler primer can make deep scratches or cracks disappear, although they will likely become less noticeable.
- Filler primers will not work on flexible materials, such as vinyl or fabric.
Step 2. Use a primer that promotes adhesion for maximum adhesion
That feature can be very helpful for vinyl parts as they allow spray paint to adhere to flexible, slippery material. Look for it along with other automotive spray primers.
- If you don't need a filler primer, you can use it for plastic parts.
- Don't use a primer of any kind on fabric before painting.
Step 3. Work in a well-ventilated area and wear a mask
A sheltered location with lots of air flow but little wind is ideal for priming and painting. For example, use a garage with all the doors and windows open. Also, always wear a respirator mask while spraying paint to reduce the entry of vapors and particles.
Also put tarps, pieces of cardboard, or other protection to avoid overspray
Step 4. Apply one to two thin coats of primer with quick sprays
Follow the directions on the can. Typically, you will shake the can for a minute. Hold it 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) from the object and spray on the surface of the object by moving it as you do so.
- Don't hold the can at one point. Otherwise, you will leave spots or bubbles on the surface.
- Apply one, two or more coats according to the instructions. For multiple coats, wait the recommended time between applications (typically 5 to 15 minutes).
Part 4 of 4: Painting interior parts
Step 1. Choose the appropriate spray paint for the surface
You should spray the plastic parts with labeled paint for use on that type of material. Similarly, you should spray the vinyl or fabric pieces with vinyl or fabric paint respectively. If possible, choose spray paints designed for use on auto parts.
Vinyl and fabric paints can be more flexible with these materials. A paint designed for plastic will crack and chip the vinyl or fabric
Step 2. Apply thin coats using a fast and steady spray motion
Spraying paint involves the same process of applying a primer. Shake the can as directed (usually for a minute), hold it 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) from the object, and apply thin coats with bursts of spray as you move the can across the surface.
- Wait about 10-15 minutes between coats (follow package directions).
- You will probably need 3-4 layers, or even more, to cover some pieces adequately. Applying multiple thin coats produces better results than you would get if you spray 1 or 2 thick coats.
- No matter how much spray paint you apply over your paint, you may never achieve the ideal results that cover every part of the fabric. That especially applies to suede fabric. Therefore, it is recommended that you moderate your expectations a bit before painting interior fabrics or let a professional do the work for you.
Step 3. Spray one to two coats of clear varnish over the plastic or vinyl if desired
The clear varnish will add added shine and protection to the paint job. Apply it in the same way as paint. However, be very careful to apply thin, even coats to the surface of the object. If not, you will probably notice stains or differences in the level of gloss on the finished product.
Although you can wait 5 to 15 minutes between coats of primer or paint, it is recommended that you wait a full 15 (or even longer) between applications of clear varnish
Step 4. Don't touch the pieces for 24 hours
Regardless of the material or whether you applied varnish, it is best to keep your hands away from the paint job for at least a day. This will allow the paint to dry completely and you can remove any sticky texture from the surface.
A good quality paint will not paint a white cloth pressed on it after 24 hours. If that happens and the fabric is on the seat, all you can do is replace the seat or find a cover that will prevent the clothing from staining
Step 5. Remove the masking tape and other protection from the parts and reinstall them
After 24 hours, remove the masking tape and plastic that you used to cover the pieces. Then, reinstall any parts you installed in the opposite order that you removed them, using the user manual as a guide. For instance:
- Put the seats in place and press any plastic hooks to reconnect any cables. Also, reinstall the bolts (usually 4) with a socket wrench.
- Reattach the steering wheel airbag and any parts that you carefully removed according to the owner's manual or have a professional do it.
- Snap the door panels in place, connect the cables by pressing the plastic hooks into place, reinstall the mounting screws with a screwdriver, and place any plastic panels near windows, handles, etc.
- Insert any plastic finial pieces into place with tabs of the same material.